Do you love the nervousness?
Pete Sampras was asked by Inside Tennis after his retirement what he missed the most about the game? He said, “I miss feeling so nervous that I would throw up before the finals of Wimbledon.”
Skill and training naturally play a big part in the ability to execute under pressure. But the real secret is embracing pressure, learning to stay sufficiently relaxed physically, and finally, knowing how to transform your nervous energy into a positive force. Lower level players often say (and may truly believe) that they want to win, but at a deeper emotional level, what they really want is to escape from uncomfortable emotions in a tight situation as quickly as possible. So they try impossible shots, or they choke, or they tank. Or they get angry. Or they become distracted and upset by extraneous factors–the personality of the opponent, line calls, officials, spectators, etc, etc.
The truth is that pressure is subjective. It all comes down to what pressure means and feels like to you. How pressure affects you depends on your belief in your ability to handle the situation. And how you feel inside your own body. Elite athletes aren’t overwhelmed because they aren’t feeling the same way as the average player. In his book, Driven From Within, Michael Jordan says, “The day I don’t feel nervous is the day I know I must quit the game of basketball.”
To embrace and enjoy pressure, you first need to acknowledge and accept that you will at times feel physical tension. Don’t try to deny this or cover it up. Pete Sampras and Michael Jordan had no problem admitting it. So don’t try to deny your own fears. You need to understand that this tension, even acute nervous tension, can become the catalyst to peak performance. At the deepest level, it means that you care, that you are engaged in the moment, and that the ongoing events matter to you. It also means you have a powerful energy source available if you can only use it in the right way. The secret is to accept the fear and nervous energy, but then to learn relax physically and transform it into positive energy. This is what the top players do instinctively.
Train yourself to be loose
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
- Tense your arms and hands. Relax.
- Tense your stomach. Relax.
- Shrug your shoulders to your ears. Relax.
- Bite down and tense your jaw. Relax.
- Tense your entire face. Relax.
- Tense your quads. Relax.
- Tense your calves. Relax.
- Tense your entire body. Relax.
When you do become tight, you will be able to identify the source. With routines like the PMR you can do a quick whole body scan and find the tense areas. Most of the time the biggest culprits are shoulders and arms or the legs. But it’s up to you to sense the specific areas for yourself in your individual matches.
There will always be moments in matches in which adversity will show up and that tension will rise, it is up to us to understand it and deal with it in a way that gets our blood going and provide us with positive energy to withstand the crisis and live the present of each point, not the past that is unchangeable or the future that is still to come, hope you can use this information in the preparation of your next match.
Vida Tennis MCC Glen Iris